Blues-Penguins Preview

The St. Louis Blues and Pittsburgh Penguins hope their recent slumps - and injury problems - are simply minor setbacks before embarking on deep playoff runs in a few weeks.

St. Louis is looking to avoid a fourth consecutive defeat as it closes its longest trip of the season against Pittsburgh, which could have Evgeni Malkin back in the lineup.

The Blues (45-21-7) lead the Central Division by one point ahead of Nashville and are two back of Anaheim with a game in hand for the top spot in the Western Conference, but they've dropped their last three after beginning the six-game swing with a pair of wins.

Alexander Steen scored his 23rd goal in the second period Sunday against Detroit before Erik Cole's goal 24 seconds into the third tied it. Justin Abdelkader's controversial power-play tally with the same amount of time elapsed in overtime gave the Red Wings a 2-1 win. Abdelkader appeared to knock the puck in with a broken stick.

"We did a lot of good things with tired legs with back-to-back games," Blues captain David Backes said, referring to a 6-3 loss to Minnesota the previous night. "Maybe we took too many penalties."

Jake Allen made 23 saves after relieving Brian Elliott early in the second period Saturday. Coach Ken Hitchcock said Allen, who has never faced the Penguins, will get the nod in this contest.

"I just try to play the best when I get called upon and try to give the guys a chance," Allen said. "I enjoy it and I'm having some fun with it."

The Blues lost a season-worst four in a row Dec. 18-27 and may have to play this contest without defenseman Carl Gunnarsson, who sat out against Detroit after suffering an upper-body injury against Minnesota.

He's questionable against the Penguins (40-22-10), who have been without Malkin for the last four games due to an upper-body injury.

There's a possibility Malkin could return Tuesday, but forward Patric Hornqvist will miss a fourth straight game with an undisclosed injury. Defenseman Christian Ehrhoff aggravated his undisclosed issue in warmups Sunday and is questionable.

"It's not a major injury, but it was something that was nagging him," coach Mike Johnston said of Ehrhoff.

The Penguins were forced to play with five defensemen but received goals from Brandon Sutter, Daniel Winnik and Sidney Crosby in a 3-1 win over Arizona. Sutter's goal bounced off of him into the net on a failed clearing attempt by Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith.

Pittsburgh, which learned Monday that Pascal Dupuis has been ruled out for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs due to blood clots diagnosed in November, had been outscored 11-2 during a four-game skid.

Marc-Andre Fleury made 30 saves and is likely to be in net for the Penguins, who sit third in the Metropolitan Division, two points ahead of Washington with one game in hand.

"Hopefully we can rally off this one and build off it," said Crosby, who earned his 50th assist on Winnik's goal and is among the league leaders with 74 points. "We finally got a bounce. We were due after all we've been through the last week or so."

Blake Comeau had two goals and an assist to help Pittsburgh wins 4-2 at St. Louis in the season's first meeting Feb. 21.

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